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Meet Ana Villanueva

Ana Villanueva thrives on creating spaces that change people’s lives. She has a way of bringing an idea to life that goes beyond the notion of what a space can be. With experience in education, healthcare, and corporate/retail, Ana’s goal on projects is the same no matter the market: make everyone feel connected to the building. Since joining Shepley Bulfinch in 2019, her design abilities and passionate advocacy for diversity have been instrumental on projects and the industry. Ana’s positivity and optimism is contagious, inspiring her colleagues to tell better stories together.  

Read more about what inspired Ana to study architecture and what motivates her.  

Why architecture? 

My dad was in the military back in Peru, so we moved between the capital and the jungle regularly. He hired an architect to build our house in the jungle, and I was immediately fascinated. The architect took the time to explain the process to us, especially how he incorporated natural materials and considered the environment in the design. It’s that emphasis on creating a bond between your surroundings and the built environment that continues to inspire my work. I received my Bachelor of Architecture at UPC in Peru, and then went on to receive my Master of Science in Architecture at the Pratt Institute in New York.  

What are you most passionate about in your work? 

Storytelling—that’s what drives me. I really enjoy the beginning of projects—investigating the background, the location, the site, and its history. No matter the market, projects are about merging community and identity into the building. In order to do so successfully, you need to take the time to understand the complexity of the identities of the users and the community. 

Who has been the strongest influence in your career? 

There are so many people along the way who have challenged me to be a better designer and think critically about my work. My thesis teacher back in Peru always encouraged his mentees to enroll in different programs, both scholarship and travel opportunities. I ended up spending a year abroad in Barcelona thanks to his encouragement, as well as to the unconditional support of my parents to step away from my comfort zone. That year inspired me to consider how software allows us to create graphics that illustrate our story and our design intent. My master’s was then focused on augmented and virtual reality, and how these tools can change how we create design intent. These experiences all formed the way I want to create architecture. 

At Shepley, I’ve been so fortunate to work with collaborative and supportive colleagues who will take the time to show me their process so I can learn. During the pandemic, one colleague would scan hand sketches and walk through how materials worked together. Natalie Thurman and I worked very closely on the John M. O’Quinn Law Building at the University of Houston, and she has been a wonderful mentor. She challenges me to question my decisions and thoughts, and to refine my skills. Together, we tell better stories.  

What do you envision for the future, both for yourself and for the industry? 

I look forward to getting licensed. It’s about more than a personal accomplishment. Less than one percent of licensed US architects are Latina, and to know I could be part of increasing that number, that drives me forward. While there are many new spaces that are elevating more diverse voices, there still needs to be more diversity within the industry. We are better stewards of stories when we celebrate the complexity of identities and the wide range of talented voices, both for our clients and our peers. I’m excited to be a part of that.  

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